Federal and State Laws on Identity Theft

Kathleen Esposito
Handcuffs

Laws on identity theft are getting more and more stringent as thieves get more sophisticated and an increasing number of consumers are getting victimized every year. While each state has its own specific identity theft regulations, there are some important federal laws that are on the books to deter people from committing this crime and to punish offenders.

Federal Laws on Identity Theft

Identity Theft Assumption and Deterrence Act

This law, which was passed in 1998, was the first to declare identity theft to be a federal crime instead of having it simply under state jurisdiction. Under this law, thieves could face up to 30 years in federal prison if convicted, depending on the severity of the crime. It also allowed for consecutive sentences for those who committed multiple offenses. Note that, with this law, thieves could only be charged with a federal crime if the crime involved interstate commerce in some way; for example, if a thief was committing mail fraud between two states.

CAN-SPAM ACT of 2003

This cleverly titled law is called the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act. It helps to deter identity thieves from sending fraudulent emails, which are usually used to operate phishing scams. With this law, all who send unsolicited email are required to label it as such and to provide both opt-out instructions and the physical address of the sender. It also makes it illegal to use deceptive subject lines. This law was enacted on the first of January, 2004. If you've looked in your inbox lately, though, you may have noticed that many e-mail senders have chosen to ignore the provisions of this law.

Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act

Also passed in 2004, this law called for mandatory sentencing in the case of certain crimes involving identity theft. It also established two new classes of identity theft that were not on the books before. The first is aggravated identity theft, which refers to identity theft that a person commits in order to commit another crime. An example would be if a person steals a passport and then uses that identification to fraudulently receive government assistance.

The second is terrorism-related identity theft. This happens when a person, for example, uses that passport to help a known terrorist enter the country even though he is on the no-fly list. A crime can fit both criteria at the same time, with the terrorism portion adding stronger penalties if the person is convicted.

State Penalties

The National Conference of State Legislatures provides a comprehensive list of state laws on identity theft on its website. Most states classify all cases of identity theft as felonies, but some still consider minor cases to be misdemeanors, although this can change. Usually, a misdemeanor will only occur if the victim loses less than $500 due to the crime.

Report Any Problems You Experience

Laws on identity theft only work well when the victims report the crimes to law enforcement. If you're ever a victim of identity theft, it is important to not only let your creditors know and to put a fraud alert on your credit file; you also need to file a police report in the area where the crime occurred. If law enforcement doesn't know about the crime, there is no way to work to prosecute the responsible party.

Federal and State Laws on Identity Theft